The American Velodrome Challenge came to San Jose's Hellyer Park track this past weekend and its $14,000 cash prize list attracted some of the biggest stars from around the world. American and Australian riders dominated the results with many events offering $1000 to the winner. There's nothing like a huge stack of Benjamins to bring out some exceptionally competitive racing.
Northern California and most recently, the Hellyer Park Velodrome has been a hotbed of track racing. In the 80's and 90's a Friday night racing series spanned 20 weeks in the spring, summer and fall. However, the resources necessary to keep such a series running and attracting top riders started dwindling in the new millenium. American Velodrome Challenge promoter, Rick Adams, decided to focus his efforts of bringing one, big race to the Hellyer Velodrome rather than spread himself thin over an extended period.
Judging from the turnout of top-quality riders and spectators and the bulging prize list Rick made the right call. To give the racing a bit of local flavor Adams mixed in a few master's and junior events which also allowed the top men and women a bit of a breather between their races.
One of the most exciting and popular events is the Japanese-born kierin race in which a group of six to eight cyclists pace behind a motorcycle for about a mile then with about a quarter of a mile(400 meters) remaining the motorbike pulls off the track and the race is on. The kierin is a national sport in Japan with the top racers there earning up to $2,000,000 per year.
Here are several photos of the kierin action.
Plans are already underway for the 2010 American Velodrome Challenge. No doubt it will be another highly successful event.
The power of Lance is pretty awesome. It is felt not only in the cycling world where media and fans simply can't get enough of him. But, it transcends the sport of cycling and the cycling community to America and most of the rest of the developed world. One only needs to know that Armstrong has over one million followers on Twitter to see the power of Lance.
This past Sunday, I got to see the power of Lance. The Texan was scheduled to ride the Nevada City Bicycle Classic. His appearance caused quite a stir in the tiny Northern California town and a local TV station stepped in to broadcast the race live. Team BMC professional rider Scott Nydam was supposed to be the color commentator for the broadcast, but he got the call to fly to Aspen to train with Levi, Lance and Chris and was unable to provide his insights.
I was at the event covering it for cyclingnews.com and was asked to step in and take Scott's place. I have done enough live radio and TV to know the drill so I agreed to get behind the camera. What was supposed to be just a local TV broadcast grew to epic proportions when Lance tweeted the web address for the broadcast. In an instant, our TV production was now a worldwide affair. It was a lot of fun and I continue to get comments from people across America who listened and viewed the broadcast.
Switching gears a bit, I love putting photos in my blog, when interesting and appropriate, so in keeping with the Lance and Nevada City Bicycle Classic, here are several photos of Lance and Levi warming up before the race. Those with a keen eye will notice that they are riding all-black Madones and not their usual steeds painted in Team Astana colors. These are clearly prototype bikes.
It seems that Trek is about to announce an updated version of the Madone; the new models will be unveiled to the press and public just before the start of the Tour de France in Monaco. Of course, it is a bit of speculation, but it appears that Trek is going to address one of the concerns of the current design of the Madone by modifying the integral seat mast and clamping mechanism to allow some side-to-side play.
This new design will make it easier to insure that you can dial in the direction of the nose of the saddle to meet your desires. The Madone re-design may include other changes. Keep your eyes peeled at the end of next week for more details.
The Garmin-Slipstream team announced its 9-man roster for the Tour de France. Not surprisingly, Christian Vande Velde will lead the squad. He finished fourth last year and looked very good doing it. The only question will be can he regain the fitness necessary to be competitive after a serious crash in the opening stages of the Giro? Recently, at the Tour de Suisse (Tour of Switzerland) he looked like he is on the way back, but there is some more fitness needed to contend for the overall. Luckily, Christian knows how to make it happen.
The team will also include Bradley Wiggins who came within one second of winning the final TT at the Giro. Besides being counted on to place highly in the time trials he has lost a reported 9 pounds(4 kilos) and will be a key support role for Vande Velde in the mountains. The multi-Olympic gold medalist will also be part of the leadout train for Tyler Farrar. Bradley will be earning his money at the Tour.
David Millar and Dave Zabriskie are included on the team for their time trialing abilities. The team time trial on stage 4 is a goal for the squad and they have the horsepower to win it. Also, look for Millar to go for stage wins in a small breakaway on the flatter stages.
Ryder Hesjedal and Dan Martin are included for their climbing abilities and to support Christian in the mountains. Ryder played a key role in the Alps at the 2008 Tour and Dan Martin is one of the up and coming stars in the pro peloton with some outstanding performances in hilly stage races last year and this spring.
Tyler Farrar was one of the revelations of the Giro. He sprinted to several second place finishes behind Mark Cavendish. While he didn't get a stage win, he showed that he was ready to mix it up in the finale and had no fear in doing it. He could definitely win a stage of the Tour.
Julian Dean is the final cog, after Bradley Wiggins, of the Farrar leadout train. Look for Wiggins to go from 1km to about 600m with Julian taking it from there to about 200m. This train, which was new for the Giro, had lots of practice in Italy and is ready to launch.
Danny Pate also has immense time trialing skills, but as he proved on the stage to Prato Nevoso in last year's Tour he can sense an opportunity for a stage win and go for it. He was oh so close last year.
The Garmin-Slipstream team is a well-balanced squad that includes riders for all the tasks necessary to be competitive in the mountains, flats and time trials. Good luck boys!
Lance Armstrong won his first pro race since his comeback with a solo win at Sunday's Nevada City Bicycle Classic. Lance, Levi and Chris came to Northern California from their training camp in Aspen, looking to test their fitness and also ramp up the intensity a bit after multiple five to six hour rides in the Colorado high country. Long rides build and preserve endurance; the 90-minute effort at Nevada City was designed to add some snap.
The 1.3 mile criterium course is considered one of the most difficult in America with over 100 feet of climbing per lap. There is no place to hide and the pretenders are quickly separated from the contenders. Lance and Levi attacked early on in the 90 minute/35 lap event and went clear with only Ben Jacques-Maynes(Bissell Pro Cycling) able to catch the train.
Lance and Levi did all the work on the front. Jacques-Maynes realizing that he was over matched by these two Tour de France veterans. With about 10 laps remaining Armstrong and Leipheimer started trading attacks, Ben finally had to let Lance go and suddenly, Armstrong was solo and looking very good for the win. The crowd erupted in applause for the seven-time Tour winner. Clearly, it was a very, very popular victory.
After the race I talked with Lance and Levi. Lance is looking extremely fit with nary an ounce of body fat on his frame. He will be starting the Tour two kilos lighter than any of his seven victories in France crediting the hot weather and long, tough stages at the Giro, rather than Jenny Craig, for his trimmer self. A couple of weeks ago, I would have questioned his fitness to contend for the overall at the Tour. Now, I have to say that he looks ready to be very, very competitive.
Levi took some well-deserved time off after the Giro, but is now ramping up his training and feeling good though he did comment that it is hard to really gage ones fitness when you are training at 8000'.
If the Nevada City Bicycle Classic was any indication of what we will see in France, things are going to be looking very good for Team Astana and the three amigos.
The state of Colorado took a huge step in increasing the rights of cyclists last month when it passed a law which goes a long way in clarifying the laws and how they apply to cyclists. More importantly, the new law clarifies how the laws applies to cars and their interaction with cyclists.
OK. I am not a lawyer and I don't even play one on TV so I will try and give you the executive summary of the most important points of the new law. In my humble opinion(IMHO) the most crucial part of the new law is that in Colorado it is now legal to cross over a double yellow line to pass a cyclist. It seems like one of the biggest problems car drivers have in overtaking cyclists is that they are unwilling to cross the double yellow line to make it happen.
It is understandable that car drivers are reluctant to cross a double yellow line to make a pass of another car since that is clearly illegal. But, I could never understand why car drivers felt they couldn't put their driver side wheels a bit over the line to safely pass a bicycle. Maybe it is something about the spirit of the law versus the letter of the law. Now, in the state of Colorado, they are one in the same.
The other portion of the law that I think is crucial deals with the distance car drivers must give cyclists when passing. In France, cars must give cyclists 1.5 meters (about 4 feet) when they are overtaking a cyclist. In Colorado, the new law also states that the buffer be four feet. Any car that buzzes close to a cyclist, for whatever reason, in Colorado is now breaking the law. It is not clear how enforceable this particular statute will be, but at least car drivers now have one standard which to abide.
Hopefully, other states will follow Colorado's lead and pass laws which legalize crossing a double yellow line to pass cyclists and also clarify the distance of the buffer they need to have when making the pass.
Tyler Hamilton received an eight year ban from the United States Anti-Doping Agency today effectively ending the 38 year-old's professional cycling career. Hamilton admitted in April that he had taken an over-the-counter anti-depressant that contained the banned substance DHEA. DHEA is a precursor for testosterone. At that time, he also announced that he has been fighting depression for a number of years which was the reason for taking the over-the-counter medication.
Hamilton's career has been marked by some very high highs and some very low lows. In 2002 he became only the second American to stand on the podium of the Giro d'Italia and the first American to win a classic, the Liege-Bastogne-Liege in 2003. His Tour de France stage win in the same year, riding with a broken collarbone, was the stuff of legends.
Tyler's Olympic Gold Medal in the Time Trial at the 2004 Athens Games was, undoubtedly, the highlight of his career, but the low point occurred only a month later when he tested positive for non-homologous blood transfusion at the Vuelta a Espana. What followed was two years of trials and hearings which ultimately resulted in Hamilton receiving a two-year ban.
Tyler returned to racing in 2007 with the Italian Tinkov racing squad, but found a better place in 2008 with Michael Ball's Rock Racing team Last year he won the USPRO Road Championships meaning that in 2009, he would be sporting the coveted Stars and Stripes Captain America jersey when he competed. Unfortunately, he only got to wear that jersey in one race, the Amgen Tour of California, before being informed of his positive test at the end of February.
Tyler is one of the nicest persons you will ever meet. The best word to describe this premature end to his career is tragic. I hope that he will be able to rely on the support of his friends and family to fight his depression and move on to the next chapter in his life.
One of the iconic figures in the sport of professional bike racing, Frenchman Laurent Fignon, announced today that he is suffering from intestinal cancer. Those new to the sport might not know the name, but in the 1980's he was one of the best stage racers in the peloton winning the 1983 and 1984 Tours de France and the 1989 Giro d'Italia. The Professor, as he was known to his French fans, was best remembered for his eight second loss to Greg LeMond in the final stage TT of the 1989 Tour.
Once again, cancer has proven that it plays no favorites and while Fignon has acknowledged that the disease is at a very advance stage, he will fight with all his will to beat it. He has already undergone two rounds of chemotherapy, but admits that the road to recovery will be difficult.
Fignon was a virtual unknown when he won the 1983 Tour de France. When he faced four-time Tour champ, Bernard Hinault, and Tour first-timer, Greg LeMond, in the 1984 edition of the race, nobody believed that he could repeat his victory. But, that he did and in convincing fashion. His victory in the 1989 Giro d'Italia made him the overwhelming favorite for the Tour that year, but Greg LeMond hung tough with the Frenchman in the mountains and then uncorked that amazing final day TT in Paris to wrestle the jersey from Fignon.
In the 1990's Fignon bought the Paris-Nice bike race and ran that event until his divorce forced him to sell the race to ASO, who also owns the Tour. Recently, Fignon opened the Laurent Fignon Center outside Bagneres de Bigorre at the foot of the Col du Tourmalet. The center is a state-of-the-art facility offering coaching, training, and just about everything associated with riding a bike.
The Cervelo Test Team was launched in 2009 by the original founders of the Cervelo bike company Phil White and Gerard Vroomen. While they do not currently hold a Pro Tour license, they are the number one ranked professional team in the world based on their results in the biggest races including four stage win a the recent Giro d'Italia. The team includes 2008 Tour de France champion Carlos Sastre and Tour green jersey wearer Thor Hushovd, but recruits such as Heinrich Haussler, Serge Pauwels and Simon Gerrans have also performed well.
I caught up with Phil White and rider Simon Gerrans at the team bus after the Blockhaus stage.
Bruce: tell me about Carlos Sastre's win on Monte Petrano
Phil White: It was not scripted, but that was something we wanted to do. We figured that was a stage he could really excel on. It was similar to what he did last year on l'Alpe d'Huez. When everyone else is worn down he's just got more energy and can go longer than anyone else. He's like the Energizer Bunny of cycling.
Bruce: what about Simon Gerrans' win at Bologna?
Phil White: It was a long day. That break worked super well together. There was no scrapping, everyone pulled their weight and it just came down to who the strongest rider was. Gerrans is a strong rider. We saw him win the Tour stage win and that is one reason we got him.
Bruce: how hard was it to build a team from scratch and get some credibility?
Phil White: I think the reputation of the team was initially that Carlos put his name to it then Thor. Those guys brought credibility to the effort, but pretty soon those guys in the classics put their stamp on it and now it is not a team that is relying on two name riders. It is a team that has built its own reputation. Those guys came right out of the blocks and stamped their name on it a the Tour of Qatar. It got the monkey off our back early so we could focus on moving ahead rather than feeling the pressure to win.
Bruce: was it hard to get the respect of the other teams in the Pro Peloton?
Phil White: I don't think anyone gives you respect just by showing up. You have to earn it. Luckily our guys earned it pretty hard and pretty solidly right from the start. In pro cycling there is no such thing as an easy ride. You have to earn your stripes and there is no way around that. We have good guys and they proved early on that they deserved the respect.
Bruce: how are things looking for the Tour?
Phil White: I think we will be right in there for the Tour. The Giro is our grand tour debut. I have a book where I have been making notes, and the sport directors have as well and it is pretty much full of little things we have to fix and improve. That's how we are going to get better by focusing on the things we
can do better.
Bruce: Take us through the finale of your win at Bologna.
Simon Gerrans: I think it was just basically survival of the breakaway; whoever could get to the top first. There was nothing too tactical about it. It was just who could get up the hill the fastest.
Bruce: it looked like the false flat halfway up took you by surprise.
Simon Gerrans: I didn't know the climb so that second ramp up to the finish was a bit of a surprise. Luckily I had a bit of gas in the tank for that.
With all the drama surrounding Lance Armstrong's comeback and his chances for another Tour win, lost a bit in the hysteria is the fact that his Team Astana might not be at the Tour. I want to say up front that I want them at the Tour because they are one heck of a good team witness their win of the team prize at the recent Giro d'Italia. But, just this past week, Team Astana boss Johan Bruyneel indicated that the sponsors have still not paid up all the money owed to the riders and the team as of June 1.
You might be thinking that it is less than a month before the Tour and that Lance, Johan or some additional sponsor could step in to make good on the money owed, but you have to remember that the governing body of the sport, the UCI, is the one who makes the decision to suspend a team for financial non-payment. The UCI usually does this to protect the riders. If a team is not paying its riders then the UCI has the power to suspend the team until all salaries are paid up-to-date.
So, while Johan and Lance are doing everything they can to keep the team afloat through the Tour, the UCI may step in and spoil the party. The UCI could suspend the team or it could revoke the team's Pro Tour license if no long-term solution is possible. If the team is suspended then Lance, Alberto, Levi, Chris, etc, will be sitting on the sidelines watching the Tour. If the UCI revokes Team Astana's Pro Tour license, then the team is basically disbanded.
If the team disbands, that means that all the riders' contracts are null and void which free the racers to seek employment with other teams. Rumours abounded at the Giro about the teams who were talking to Alberto Contador if the Astana did disband. Also a hot topic in Italy was the very real possibility that Johan Bruyneel would get Astana's Pro Tour license and he and Lance will have their own top-tier pro team in the very near future.
Personally, I don't think the UCI will revoke Astana's Pro Tour license or suspend the team. Johan Bruyneel is clearly frustrated at the Astana sponsors inability to satisfy their financial commitment, but I think everything will probably hang together long enough to get the team through the Tour. But, it is clear that the money is slow in coming and the UCI might just step in to set an example. Team Astana should have been at last year's Tour. Hopefully their exclusion won't happen again.
It's hard to determine where Steve Larsen left a greater legacy. He was an accomplished road racer, riding in Europe in the mid-90's for the Motorola Professional Cycling team alongside Lance Armstrong and Andy Hampsten. He won a NORBA National Championship in 1998 and 2000 on the mountain bike. Who can forget his first ever Ironman triathlon winning and setting a course record at Lake Placid. Steve's awesome talent left its mark across a wide swath of endurance sports. If Steve was in the field, one thing was for certain, even if he didn't win, he made everyone else suffer trying to catch him.
Steve was also the consummate professional. He realized that his athletic prowess was the way he was going to put food on the table and went about trying to maximize his name and results. That's not a negative, it just indicates that Steve pursued the business side of the sport with the same skill and determination he used on the athletic side.
I knew Steve during all this phases, living and training with him and his Motorola teammates in Northern Italy, attending World Cup mountain bike races as a journalist and finally, watching him try to figure out how to train for the marathon portion of the triathlon without trashing his legs for cycling training. The common denominator in all three were his determination to give his best and leave it all out on the road, trail or water.
Steve never really did figure out how to train for the marathon. He told me that he ran the final 26.2 miles of a triathlon on pure guts, no training whatsoever. That might seem reckless, but at the time, he was also racing professionally for the Webcor Builders cycling team and the running hurt his legs so badly he could not train on the bike for his "real" job. The fact that Steve suffered his fatal injury while running a track workout seems a bit ironic.
In the 2001 Hawaii Ironman World Championships Steve was first off the bike, but suffered badly on the run and wound up 9th. While it might appear that the run was once again his undoing, Steve related to me that it was, in fact, all the water he swallowed during the swim finally catching up with him. Yes, Steve was really a biker first and foremost. Swimming and running were part of the job, but not part of the passion.
Off the bike, Steve and his wife Carrie opened a bike shop, Steve Larsen's Wheelworks, in his hometown of Davis, California. He sold the shop and relocate to Bend, Oregon five years ago and was working in commercial real estate. At only 39 years of age, he has left us way too early. Obviously, he will be sorely missed by his wife and their five children, but also by those of us who looked to Steve for inspiration on what could be accomplished once you set your mind to do it.
Team Columbia Highroad had an exceptional Giro winning six stages including the team time trial. I stopped by the team bus at the TT in Rome to chat with some of the guys.
Michael Barry is quickly becoming a super-gregario or super-domestique, a support rider who toils in anonymity to setup the win by a teammate in this case, Mark Cavendish.
Bruce: What is your role in setting up Mark's sprint wins?
Michael: First of all we ride on the front from the start to make sure a breakaway of five or more riders doesn't get away because a bigger group is really hard to control. Five to ten riders is manageable. Groups bigger than that we chase down. Once a breakaway has gone we set a tempo behind keeping it within reach. That means we can be riding at the front for a couple of hundred kilometers. As close to the finish as possible we chase the breakaway down, bring them back and lead Mark out.
During that time he stays on the wheels and stays as fresh as possible. If it is like San Remo (stage) where we had a rider in the breakaway I just kept him out of the wind and made sure he was getting enough food and water. If he stops to take a pee then I stop with him and ride him back to the peloton. He is really conserving as much energy as possible.
On the longer stages it makes a huge difference if he can ride at 165 watts average as opposed to 180 watts for the first couple of hours that can make the difference between winning by a meter or losing by a foot.
Bruce: you are what the Italians call a "gregario" or "helper". How do you feel about that role?
Michael: I love it. For me, on many levels, cycling is all about the sacrifice and its weird that the public only sees one rider across the line with his arms in the air because on so many levels it is a team sport as much as football or soccer or hockey is a team sport. I really enjoy it especially if you have guys who are respectful of your work.
Mark Cavendish is the best field sprinter in the business, bar none. He won three stages of the Giro and looked relaxed doing it.
Bruce: what happened in the first sprint stage when you couldn't come around Pettachi and he won the stage?
Mark: I get complacent because it is easy to win sometimes and I got complacent that day and I was lazy. I learned from that. I wasn't lazy after that and was back to normal.
Bruce: you keep praising your team for your victories. Is that just being nice or are they really that important?
Mark: If you saw in the Milano stage you got the guy in the white jersey and our overall GC contender riding on the front when every other GC guys was south on the last lap it show how special it is. To have guys wasting their energy to help me succeed that's something pretty special.
Bruce: at the 2008 Tour you won four stages. Is there pressure on you to do better this year?
Mark: Even with the stage that finishes on Ventoux, I will give it my best. If it is a sprint day, if I give it my best, hopefully I can come out on top.
I stopped by the Team Astana bus during the Rome TT and spoke to Chechu Rubiera, Jani Brajkovic and Johan Bruyneel. Here is what they had to say on a variety of topics.
Bruce: it appears that, for the TT, the race organizers found every bad section of cobbles in central Rome.
Chechu: Not just in Rome, the whole Giro. We should start a business in Italy with asphalt. It is a good thing. You could make money here. The whole Giro had cobblestones and it has been really tough. It is the Centenario(100th anniversary) and the route was very nice with places like Rome, Venice, Vesuvio, but it was pretty damned dangerous. We were lucky it didn't rain because if it did rain this race could have been a big mess.
Bruce: You keep threatening to retire. Is this your last Giro?
Chechu: Maybe my last one. I didn't feel very good. I trained hard and I did my best, but I was pretty far from the best guys. It was a little bit of a disappointment.
Bruce: Will we see you at the Tour?
Chechu: No. I will be doing the Vuelta and not the Tour.
Bruce: how do you assess your performance in the Giro?
Jani: It was a pretty good Giro. I am pretty satisfied. We did a good job as a team also. I am not feeling super tired so I am happy. I was there to help Levi and Lance so I did that and I am happy about it.
Bruce: You seemed to excel as a climber in the Giro. Did you do anything special to become a better climber?
Jani: I think so far I have been quite a decent climber so I had no problems with that. I was not here to be a leader so there was no reason for me to go 100%. I tried to save as much energy as possible and use it on another day.
Bruce: what was it like riding for Lance and Levi?
Jani: Lance is incredible and Levi is also really strong. I am really happy to be racing with them. It is just incredible.
Bruce: for today's TT will you ride a road bike or a time trial bike?
Jani: Actually, I haven't decided yet. Maybe I will go on a road bike because I don't want to do it for the results. I just want to ride it because it is super-dangerous.
Bruce: what positives for Team Astana do you take away from the Giro?
Johan: For us it has been a race where we didn't start with the obsession to win it or anything like that. We thought 'OK we want to have some good results', but we were not obsessed with winning it or having to have stage wins. Ultimately we are going to win the team classification. It is always a good indication of what the team performance is like.
Bruce: how do you feel about the performances of Levi and Lance?
Johan: I think Levi's sixth place is good. It's not great. We hoped for a little better, but his crash right before the time trial and the fact that he is on high form already since February makes it really difficult to maintain in the last week of the race. The last week of a big tour is always hard. We are happy with his performance at the end of three weeks.
Lance has improved considerably and is able to ride comfortably in the mountains.That is also a good thing we take away from it(the Giro). It has been a good three weeks.
Bruce: what does Lance need to do to be at top form for the Tour de France?
Johan: He needs some time. He needs another month now to have some good training in June. He'll be in good shape for the Tour. I don't know how good that can be to be with the best, but he will be in good shape.